The South African speedster talks about his career, the decision to quit pro racing and what’s happening next…
For over a decade Neville Bradshaw has been a regular on the British motocross championship scene, dedicating his life to chasing the biggest prize in UK MX. He’s raced with passion, heart and a hunger for success and his incredible work ethic has made him a fan favourite.
The South African has also won a hat-trick of Red Bull Pro Nationals MX2 titles, lifted the British SX crown and taken a British Masters title. His story is one of determination and a steely desire to prove the doubters wrong.
In 2015 Bradshaw decided to go it alone and race with his own set-up. He was gunning for his first Maxxis moto win – he’s won an overall but not an individual moto – in his last season of racing before hanging up his boots for good. However, after just three rounds of the Maxxis, one change of manufacturer and one wrecked bike Bradshaw’s dream was broken.
“Towards the end of last year Dave and Vicki [of DB Racing] decided to pack it up. I believed that they were one of the best teams in the British championship paddock and I couldn’t really see myself going anywhere else from there,” says Nev. “So I figured the next best option for me would be to just do it on my own. I managed to put something cool together [with Husqvarna], worked really hard at it and busted my balls off in the winter trying to get everything sorted.
“Everything seemed to be in line but unfortunately I never really got a good feel with the Husqvarna. As good as it is out of the box – I was sitting sixth in the British championship after round two on a stock bike – I just didn’t feel comfortable on it.
“The chassis was just unreal for me. The bike never did what I wanted it do – I always seemed to be a foot away from where I wanted to be – and I spent so much of my own money changing stuff and trying to get it right. I’d be really frustrated on a weekend, I’d be riding round at 70 per cent but still getting decent results. Every week I was changing clamps, changing forks, changing shocks. I just couldn’t get comfortable on the thing.
“Engine wise it was unbelievable. I’d go as far as to say that it was quicker than my race bike from last year as a stock standard engine. But I just didn’t gel with the chassis and didn’t want to spend my last year feeling sketched out all the time and not enjoying what I was doing.”
Once you lose confidence in a bike it’s a hard thing to regain and harder still to get your head over that physiological hump and start riding at 100 per cent again.
“In the MX2 class especially you have to be feeling good. I think my last race on the Husqvarna I went 2-2 at the MX Nationals but last year I was racing with [Steven] Lenoir every moto – this year he was 30 seconds up the track from me. I just couldn’t find a good feel and I couldn’t push. I’m not there just to make up the numbers – eitherr I’m going to go all-in and do well or else I’m just not going to do it at all.”
Nev’s solution was simple – change machinery…
“I looked at all the bike tests and after the KTM and Husqvarna the Yamaha had the next best horsepower. I’ve always liked the look of the Yamaha so I gave it a ride. Honestly man, I just loved it! From the first day on the bike I gelled with it and I felt like myself again. That was a big thing for me. I started doubting myself after those bad races I was having. A few old sponsors came along and helped me out with some parts for it. We put a pipe and an ignition on it and I went to the British championships [at Canada Heights] just wanting to race and give 100 per cent.
“Obviously, I knew that my bike was nothing compared to the bikes I would be racing – a standard bike with a pipe and ignition just doesn’t cut it at that level. But I knew that I could make the time up through my corner speed and just enjoying being on the bike. So the first race I came from like 22nd to ninth and I was catching up to the group in front of me. I knew my speed was good and I knew that as the day wore on and the track got slower and rougher I was going to get better.
“In race two I started around 14th and, man, I just hustled on that first lap, it was awesome! I had such a good feeling on the bike. I came through to seventh, got into sixth and I could see [Harri] Kullas and [Petar] Petrov the whole moto. I could see Lenoir across the track staying the same distance away.
“Eventually I caught [Lewis] Trickett for fifth but three laps before the end I heard something go in the bike and as the two-lap board came out the bike let go. Right then and there all the effort, all the money, it was wasted. Right there and then I said to myself ‘that’s it, I’ve had enough’. I was heartbroken.”
It was a bitter pill for Nev to swallow – especially as pre-season he’d set his sights on one last career goal before calling it a day.
“There was one thing I was chasing this year – I’ll put my cards on the table, I didn’t want to end my career without winning a British championship moto. I’ve won an overall, I’ve had lots of seconds and lots of thirds but a moto win is the one thing that I’ve been chasing.
“But now I’ve realised that with people like Max Anstie in the class on a good day on a standard 250F I’m going to finish third or fourth. I’m never going to beat Max on a standard bike. So why should I bankrupt myself just chasing that one thing?
“The biggest shame of it all and the thing that is really bugging me is the amount of work and training that I put in for this year, the amount of money that I spent and the fact that I felt I was riding so well. I feel that my fitness is great. I had everything in line to have a solid year. But as always the finances came into it and I just can’t do it.”
Nev’s age obviously plays a part and although his hunger is still undiminished at 31 he finds himself with responsibilities he didn’t have a decade ago – grown-up factors such as a young family to provide for.
“If I was 19 years old again I would give up everything, just like I did before. I put every single thing I had into motocross and had an amazing career, better than I could ever have imagined. Over the last year-and-a-half I’ve been looking back a lot and thinking ‘sh*t, I’ve actually done pretty well out of this’.
As Nev talks it’s obvious the decision to walk away from the Maxxis was a difficult one and a heartfelt Facebook message he posted resulted in a huge reaction from fans.
“The support after that was so awesome to see, it makes me realise that I’ve done something really cool in my career. Everywhere I go people are saying how gutted they are and thanks for the memories and stuff like that.”
Nevalso received a lot of offers for help after his Facebook message but life’s just not that simple…
“There were a lot of people that wanted to help out. Financially, that’s one thing but it’s getting someone to look at your bike in the week, it’s getting parts to fix the bike, then you’ve got to practice and train all week to be at the front of the British championship, then there’s getting to the races and accommodation. It’s endless.
“I might’ve mistaken how much it took to keep an MX2 bike running at that level – I think that was my biggest underestimation. I was thinking that I was going to get two or three races out of the bike and then have the engine rebuilt. Whereas you really have to get it done after every single race.”
Throughout our conversation the passion behind Nev’s words is powerful. He has a lot of opinions and he’s most definitely not afraid to share them…
“I went riding yesterday and there was another pro rider – a really good rider – and he just messed around all day. That pissed me off a little. I’m buying all my bikes, buying all my spares, I’m faster than him still and I could probably still go and beat him on the weekend.
“I’m out there doing 30-minute motos – which I don’t have to do as this isn’t a job for me anymore – and he’s messing around all day. I think it has made me a little bitter, the way that motocross has turned and the money and people paying into teams and stuff. I think it has just ruined a lot of opportunities for a lot of kids that have potential.”
Nev’s still not short of offers to race for teams but the full package isn’t there for him.
“For the last 10 years I’ve been paid to race dirt bikes. The people that I would be racing in the British championship – let’s say between third and seventh – are getting paid to do it. So, yeah, I’ve been offered to go and ride for teams but there’s no wages. So what’s the point in putting your neck on the line every single weekend?
“You’re going to put them [the team] on the podium and put all of their sponsors on the podium but you’re not going to get anything back from that. I do really appreciate everything that everyone has offered me but if it’s going to be a job then I’m going to do the job properly but it’s a two-way street you know.
“Racing motocross at British championship level is a full-time job. You’ve got to train all week. You’ve got to ride your motorbike all week. You’ve got to sacrifice everything for it. So if you are doing that job you should be getting paid for it.”
The prize money available doesn’t cover expenses – Nev earned £400 for his 2-2 in the MX Nationals, Britain’s second-biggest series – and without a regular wage racing at a top-flight level just isn’t a financially viable option.
“That’s why I’ve scaled down. I’m just going to do it as a hobby and enjoy it. I’m going to use all of the work I have put in so far this year and over the winter to at least enjoy the rest of the year and keep me sharp to go race in South Africa. That’s something that I always wanted to do once I finished racing here. So now is a good time for me to do that, everything is in line and hopefully we’ll do well.”
Nev’s already showing good speed in the South African national series on a Vision Racing Yamaha, running third overall in MX2 and taking a double win in MX1 at round three of the series at Port Elizabeth.
“Once a month there’s a South African national so I’ll be flying back and forth. I got a deal from factory Yamaha out there and they’ve got some good sponsors that have helped out with flights and expenses and stuff. So the plan is to properly enjoy it you know.”
Despite his obvious problems with the sport Nev is still clearly in love with riding motorcycles. Circumstances may have forced his hand but the good news for his fans is he’ll still be running a pretty high profile in the UK.
“I’ll still be racing the MX Nationals because two of the kids in my academy race that so it will be good for me to be there on the Saturday helping them out and then to race on the Sunday. I’ll probably do some centre races and if there is a race at Canada Heights I’ll probably do that.”
And the Maxxis series? Is there any way he could be tempted to have another shot at that unfulfilled ambition to grab a moto win?
“If I got paid a wage – not even a massive wage but enough to cover my expenses and let me do the job properly. So if I had someone to cover that and I could put in the time in the week, dedicate two days a week to riding and not have to worry about keeping my practice bike going or building race bikes all week.
“All that stuff takes a little edge off the weekend whereas before you were fresh – you just showed up, raced, went home, trained, practised and then raced again. So if I could get that again, a small wage and be around people that want to do well. That’s a big thing, there are a lot of teams out there that just want to be there you know…”
The Maxxis series is certainly the poorer for Nev’s absence but his determination, never-say-die attitude and willingness to graft – attributes he always demonstrates on the track – should see him prosper whatever he plans to do.
“Motocross is awesome. Motocross can instil something in people that nothing else can. That’s why I think I’m very fortunate. If I use the same work ethic I’ve learned through motocross in another aspect of my life I’ve got no doubt I can succeed.
“My training schools for example – everyone is really pumped with them. My missus asked me why I think that is and I said to her it’s because I take pride in what I do, I give them everything I have on the day. You just have to take pride and work hard and if you work hard things come good for you. That’s what I believe.”